The more than 1,400 people who walked through Highland Park Sunday at the annual Jewish United Fund’s (JUF) Israel Solidarity Day event were joined by a special group: politicians.
Elected officials at the federal, state and local levels participated in the opening ceremonies. Rep. Robert Dold (R-Kenilworth) delivered the keynote addres, and was joined by state Reps. Karen May (D-Highland Park) and Robyn Gable (D-Evanston) along with Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering. Dold and Rotering walked part of the route together.
All four have varying degrees of connection to Israel. Dold returned from a JUF mission two weeks ago with a number of people from the North Shore, including Sandy Perl of Glencoe, who walked with Dold and Rotering.
“I went with him two years ago [on another JUF mission], when he was a candidate," Perl said at the beginning of the event. "He understood then and he’s more engaged now."
'Shoulder to shoulder'
When Dold was nearly done with the march, he and his group paused at the corner of St. Johns and Park avenues to greet other walkers.
“It’s important to show support for Israel and to walk with my constituents. I enjoy catching up with people,” said the freshman lawmaker, who also sees his participation as a better method of doing his job. “It’s a way to be accessible to the people I work for."
Before the walk, Dold told the crowd about listening as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed a joint session of Congress on May 24. “He sounds like one of us,” Dold said describing that speech.
Dold also promised to continue to support the relationship between the U.S. and Israel.
“I will stand on the floor of Congress and be a leader on this issue,” he said. “We must stand shoulder to shoulder with Israel to let them [Israelis] know we will never leave their side.”
'Always in our hearts'
Gable has already stood with Israelis — inside a bomb shelter. She studied at Hebrew University in Jerusalem and was there during the 1973 Yom Kippur War. She also lived on a kibbutz, a collective agricultural community unique to Israel.
“Israel is always in our hearts,” Gable said. “I’d never been in a war before. I remember going to school, hearing a siren and having to go into a shelter.”
After that experience, Gable said the entire Middle East situation became more meaningful.
May, who has also made several trips to Israel, has been a regular at Israel Solidarity Day over the years.
“I’m happy to be here in solidarity with Israel,” she said. "It’s very important to show support.”
Rotering has never been to Israel, though she heard stories from her great grandfather who traveled there in 1920 during the early days of the Zionist movement — 28 years before the Jewish state declared its independence. She plans to go in the future.
Ilya Sheyman, a community organizer from Waukegan, was there as well. He is one of three hopefuls seeking the Democratic nomination to oppose Dold in 2012 in the newly redrawn 10th Congressional District. The others are Deerfield business consultant Brad Schneider and Wheeling attorney Robert McKenzie.
Sheyman, who emigrated from Russia when he was five, has a special connection. When he came to America, other family members left Russia for Israel.
“I have family in Tel Aviv,” he said. “It is very real to me. I have cousins in the IDF [Israel Defense Forces]. It’s important for them to know we support them.”